The fear and loathing of video game boss fights 

boss fights

Vikki Blake has never been a fan of boss fights, but playing through Remnant 2 may have helped change her mind…


Stick “Souls-like” on your game’s cover, and my reaction is guaranteed: I’ll run just as fast as I can in the opposite direction.

It’s not that I don’t relish a challenge. I’ve run Destiny raids on Hard mode, taking not hours but days to get the job done, watching in real-time as the patience and camaraderie of each of my fire team members wear thin. I’ve played every Halo campaign on Legendary, slogging on even when I’ve wanted to rip off my own arm in frustration, and I’ve unlocked Dishonored’s ghost achievement, which required me – a naturally “High Chaos” kind of player – to sneak through the entire campaign without killing anyone or being spotted by an enemy.

Generally, though? Generally, I’d rather not spend my free time feeling impossibly frustrated and angry, rinse-and-repeating the same boss fight dozens of times. I spend most of my day feeling impossibly frustrated and angry anyway – I’m the mother of a teenager, my friends – so I’d prefer a break from that before I get my head down and have to go through it all over again tomorrow.

The difference, I think, is – Dishonored aside – all of those experiences were collective, and there’s something special about knowing others are feeling every defeat and wipeout as intensely as I do. It’s not only because misery loves company – although, let’s face it; it does – but just as the wins feel great when they’re shared, so too do the losses.

Occasionally, though, I’m forced to take on a Souls-like against my better judgement, and that’s exactly what happened with Remnant 2. Tasked to play it for work (it’s a tough job etc. etc. etc.), I roped in one of my usual gaming pals – my decade-old Destiny 1 fireteam may have chiefly moved on, but we still occasionally chat and play together – and, very, very reluctantly, jumped in Remnant 2's world.

Unlike me, my partner for Remnant 2 is a Souls veteran. 100 per cent-ing games like Bloodborne and Elden Ring – games I wholly appreciate from afar, but would never dare attempt – he’s far more accustomed to the brutality of Souls-like adventures, so I hoped that with him along, I’d at least get a fighting chance to finish up the campaign before deleting it from my hard drive and never returning. Fast-forward a week, however, and we’ve not only finished Remnant 2, but I’m itching to return to it.

Of course, much of this is directly attributable to Remnant 2's creativity. I can’t pretend I cared much for its people or storyline, but its worlds are delightfully engaging, and its combat solid and satisfying, even with that troublesome couplet – “souls-like” – attached to its marketing. Don’t get me wrong; we didn’t attempt the hardest difficulty, which meant our path through the campaign was one of the easier ones, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t without its challenges. And while I had to learn the hard way about the importance of listening for audio cues, I shocked myself by beginning to appreciate the satisfaction you get by triumphing in boss fights, too.

You see, I’ve never liked boss fights. Not even when I was growing up and all games had boss fights. It’s an admission I’ve always kept to myself because admitting this feels a little like a tacit admission that I must suck, or have no patience, or both. But actually, I’m a pretty average player with an above-average understanding of how games are supposed to work. My issue is that I’m a born panicker, and find it very difficult to do much of anything when the pressure’s on (especially if that pressure is accompanied by a countdown timer!).

Dara Ó Briain sums it up best in this fabulous routine in which he entertains a crowd by saying that while you cannot be so “bad” at watching a movie or listening to an album that you’re prohibited from proceeding, you can be that bad at playing a video game… “and the video game will punish you and deny you access to the rest of the game”. And it’s this denial, coupled with a tendency to button-mash when panicking, that aggravates me so… and it’s why so many games of my past were traded in half-completed because I found myself stuck and unable to proceed.

And that fear of boss fights never left me, really. I know contemporary game design has moved on from this, and even FromSoft’s Elden Ring is a more accessible offering than Bloodborne insofar as it allows you to nope out of a fight if you decide it’s too much too soon. Remnant 2 isn’t quite as open a world – you’ll need to complete key fights in order to unlock the next objective and progress the story – but knowing that I can zip back to camp or take on a less infuriating boss in an optional dungeon is curiously liberating.

And it may be the first time, ever, I’ve played a game where instead of dreading the next boss encounter, I’m relishing it…

Vikki Blake has a column every week here at whynow Gaming. You can read her previous dispatch here.

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